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Genetics, Mental Health, Research, Women's Health

Study suggests specific gene may influence happiness among women

Previous research has linked the gene monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) with risk taking and aggression. But findings recently published in Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry suggest that this so-called “warrior gene”  is associated with higher self-reported happiness in women.

In the study (.pdf), scientists examined data from a population-based sample of 345 men and women who participated in the longitudinal mental health study Children in the Community. The DNA of study participants was also collected and analyzed for MAOA gene variation. Additionally, volunteers’ self-reported happiness was scored by a widely used and validated scale. Researchers’ findings are described in a University of South Florida release:

After controlling for various factors, ranging from age and education to income, the researchers found that women with the low-expression type of MAOA were significantly happier than others. Compared to women with no copies of the low-expression version of the MAOA gene, women with one copy scored higher on the happiness scale and those with two copies increased their score even more.

While a substantial number of men carried a copy of the “happy” version of the MAOA gene, they reported no more happiness than those without it.

So, why the genetic gender gap in feeling good?

The researchers suspect the difference may be explained in part by the hormone testosterone, found in much smaller amounts in women than in men. Chen and his co-authors suggest that testosterone may cancel out the positive effect of MAOA on happiness in men.

Researchers say future studies are needed to better understand which specific genes influence resilience and subjective well-being and how genetics, along with life experiences, shape individuals’ happiness.

Previously: New study links generational language problems to gene mutations, Patients’ genetics may play a role in determining side effects of commonly prescribed painkillers and Common genetic Alzheimer’s risk factor disrupts healthy older women’s brain function, but not men’s
Photo by Drew Mackie

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